Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the United Nations Biodiversity Summit, held today:
Humanity is waging war on nature. We need to rebuild our relationship with it. More than 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are endangered due to overfishing, destructive practices and climate change. Wildlife populations are plummeting because of overconsumption, population growth and intensive agriculture.
And the rate of species extinction is accelerating, with some 1 million species currently threatened or endangered, as the President just said. Deforestation, climate change and the conversion of wilderness for human food production are destroying Earth’s web of life. We are part of that fragile web — and we need it to be healthy so we and future generations may thrive.
One consequence of our imbalance with nature is the emergence of deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola and now COVID-19, against which we have little or no defence. Sixty per cent of all known diseases and 75 per cent of new infectious diseases are zoonotic, passing from animals to humans, demonstrating the intimate interconnection between the health of our planet and our own.
Biodiversity and ecosystems are essential for human progress and prosperity. They are central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. Yet, despite repeated commitments, our efforts have not been sufficient to meet any of the global biodiversity targets set for 2020. Much greater ambition is needed — not just from Governments, but from all actors in society.
Let me be clear: degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue. It spans economics, health, social justice and human rights. Neglecting our precious resources can exacerbate geopolitical tensions and conflicts. Yet, too often, environmental health is overlooked or downplayed by other Government sectors.
This Summit is our opportunity to show the world that there is another way. We have to change course and transform our relationship with the natural world. By living in harmony with nature, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change and recharge biodiversity for the benefit of people and the planet.
I see three priorities for conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity:
First, nature-based solutions must be embedded in COVID-19 recovery and wider development plans. Preserving the world’s biodiversity can yield the jobs and economic growth that we urgently need today.
The World Economic Forum signals that emerging business opportunities across nature could create 191 million jobs by 2030. Africa’s Great Green Wall alone has created 335,000 jobs.
Nature-based solutions are also vital tools in our fight to solve the climate crisis. Forests, oceans and intact ecosystems are effective carbon sinks. Healthy wetlands mitigate flooding.
We have natural solutions at our fingertips to protect us from natural disasters, job loss and economic fallout. Let’s use them.
Second, our economic systems and financial markets must account for and invest in nature. Nature’s resources still do not figure in countries’ calculations of wealth. The current system is weighted towards destruction, not preservation. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates the annual global funding needed for nature at between $300 and $400 billion — much less than current levels of harmful subsidies for agriculture, mining and other destructive industries.
Investing in nature will protect biodiversity and improve climate action, human health and food security. Governments need to include biodiversity as a criterion in financial decision-making. The new Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures will help financial institutions to shift finance from destructive activities and toward nature-based solutions.
Third, we must secure the most ambitious policies and targets that protect biodiversity and leave no one behind. The Convention on Biological Diversity estimates that services from ecosystems make up between 50 and 90 per cent of the livelihoods of poor rural and forest-dwelling households.
Nature offers business opportunities to poor communities, from sustainable farming to ecotourism or subsistence fishing. All of them depend on conserving biodiversity and using it sustainably. Most indigenous peoples, in particular, depend on healthy ecosystems that can provide the economic and financial services they need to preserve their cultures and livelihoods.
I count on you during this Summit to send strong signals of leadership to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. I welcome the Leader’s Pledge for Nature and coalitions such as the Campaign for Nature launched at the Climate Action Summit last year. These coalitions of leaders send a strong signal to raise political ambition in the run-up to COP15 of the Convention of Biological Diversity. This includes committing to addressing the causes of biodiversity loss.
I urge all leaders to join these efforts. We need to secure an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework. One that will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. One that sets out concrete and measurable targets and includes means of implementation, particularly finance and monitoring mechanisms. One that mobilizes a full and effective partnership across States and societies, with businesses, youth, women, indigenous people and local communities.
Ten years ago, we secured commitments that should have protected our planet. We have largely failed. But, where effort has been made, the benefits to our economies, human and planetary health are irrefutable. Nature is resilient and it can recover if we ease our relentless assault.
In the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, this Summit presents a unique opportunity for you all to make the decisions that will shape our shared future. We need a healthy planet for our societies to thrive and our economies to rebuild. The world is counting on you, and I thank you.